What to do about the UK museum cuts?

The UK government is flat broke, so the axe is out and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is a huge sitting duck.

Museums live on the ragged edge already. As Wikimedians, we need to do what we can to mitigate the disaster coming their way.

First thing off the top of my head: get our GLAM contacts in order and ask them:

“We can’t do political lobbying. But what can we do to help?”

It’s reasonably clear that this is an ambit claim to see who kicks up a fuss — the BBC discovered people love 6 Music, and that their desired Asian Network demographic preferred 6 Music.

It strikes me as feasible that a fuss in the general name of the arts is reasonably within WMUK’s charitable objectives and won’t violate anyone’s expectations of neutrality. It’ll also be powerful signaling that Wikimedia are one of the few native Internet groups to actively work for the preservation of culture. (Much as, as Geni has noted, we’re the only web 2.0 site to give a hoot about copyright.)

It will be worth remaining cognisant, of course, of the Iron Law of Institutions: we care about the collections themselves, the museum boards care about their power over the money per se and secondarily about what it’s spent on.

But the first step remains: offer them our help and ask what we, as huge fans of museums and what they do, can do to help.

What would you suggest as an effective course of action?

(See also discussion on wikimediauk-l.)

The wrung dry corpses of words.

I have been unduly cruel to Michel Houellebecq for cheap lulz. Appropriating dry technical texts is an entirely valid and often highly entertaining literary technique. And the publicity has actually made me want to read the book.

It was picked up on immediately because he picked a dry technical text that people actually read. I’m presuming here that words in French Wikipedia are subject to the same horrors they’re put through on English Wikipedia and the pattern of traumatised textual flesh is distinctive and obvious.

Spotting and marking for death anything interesting, well-written or showing signs of coherent authorship is, in practice, a reliable heuristic for eliminating puff pieces. English Wikipedia has a house style, and it’s really obvious when someone’s quoting a chunk of it. It’s what happens to text when too many people edit it and all nuance is iteratively wrung out. Also, there’s lots of dangling subclauses as successive writers argue in the article and try to get their favourite nuance or contingency covered. It’s most visible on articles that were made featured a few years ago and have since sunk into dilapidation.

If someone hasn’t studied and written about the Wikipedia house style academically, they damn well should. It would be an interesting exercise for an individual to try to write as badly as an overedited Wikipedia article, so as to make their own fake Wikipedia text for fiction. This may even be amenable to computerisation.